I have been thinking more about how the World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen wins his games and must admit that it does not make sense to me. I have read quite a number of times that Carlsen just grinds out wins from drawn positions or simple positions. Let’s analyse that? In an age where computers are much more powerful that humans and it is much easier to understand the game aided by a training partner of Super Grandmaster strength, how is it that a player can dominate players with such a simple strategy. A strategy so simple that many years ago could perhaps have been laughable? Is such a strategy not too simple for the age we live in? We now have 7 piece endgame tablebases. Of course there is only so much that the memory can hold but Carlsen has has been holding his own with an approach to the game that would in theory be suicidal.
I propose that it should be much simpler to prepare for Carlsen than a Garry Kasparov or Fabiano Caruana. Even more mystifying for me is the fact that Carlsen is known to play many openings despite not being an opening expert. Should such a strategy not put him at a clear disadvantage playing rivals who have been using specific lines for a very long time?
Should the simpler positions from Carlsen in theory not be much easier to play than complicated positions? How then do players constantly lose their way against Carlsen? We are talking not just any players but super grandmasters, the very best in the world. They cannot play out the drawn positions against Carlsen to prove that they are indeed draws.
If we were to try and explain Carlsen in other sporting terms let’s say tennis, it could be the equivalent of a very good player whose chances of winning the match increase when he gets his ball in. Not when he serves fast or down the line, just serves a ball that goes and the play continues. Would such an approach, maybe it might but it would be just too risky.
Or let’s try and use soccer. How would a team winning with a Carlsen type strategy. Perhaps that could be, keep the ball in play. Do not aim for space advantage early on in the game. Just keep the ball in play and over time outplay the opposition. I doubt very much that any tennis player or soccer team would be comfortable with these kinds of strategies. It just gives the opposition too many options in terms of dictating.
Do players lose concentration against Carlsen as he ready to play for hours? Carlsen is not known for any kind of psychological warfare over the board or any kind of gamesmanship that could perhaps be getting him some cheap points. On the contrary Carlsen is but intimidating over the chess board. He does not seem to show much emotion in his games.
In some ways Carlsen is possibly the Capablanca of our times. Like Carlsen, Capablanca who had a very simple opening repertoire and spent minimal time on it. In fact Capablanca seemed to spend much less time on chess than say Alexander Alekhine, a contemporary of his. However, once Capabanca got into the middle game or endgame with a simple game, most of the time he won. In fact Capablanca was so dominant in his time that when he lost a game after some years, that actually made headlines.
If you look at the last world championship between Magnus Carlsen and Vishwanathan Anand, Anand was constantly trying to complicate positions or use his deep opening preparation. Why would an Anand with all his vast experience not be comfortable with simplified positions that are probably less taxing for him calculation wise.
If we can agree that one key thing in chess strength is patten recognition. The more patterns a player recognises the higher their chances of finding the strongest move. In that case I would argue that much older and mature players than Carlsen should have an advantage as positions become simpler and less complicated. Why? Because they have been playing chess much longer and are more likely to have experience in such positions.
Then again, if it were so easy to play Magnus Carlsen, he wouldn’t be top of the rankings, world champion in three different formats of the game Classical, Rapid, and Blitz. I don’t know if such a feat has been achieved before. Perhaps we will need to dig more to solve the mystery of Carlsen’s magical play or simply admit that he is so much better than everyone else.